Democracy for All

…seems like a simply positive idea, but getting there is a little more tricky than it appears…

“we all know, that human nature itself, from indolence, modesty, humanity or fear, has always too much reluctance to a manly assertion of its rights. Hence perhaps it has happened that nine tenths of the species, are groaning and gasping in misery and servitude.”

~ John Adams, “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” No. 4, October 1765


Americans are singularly interested in the spread of democracy throughout the globe.  Ever since the days of the Founding Fathers, we’ve looked with barely concealed excitement as other societies around the world have attempted to adopt our form of governance.  Some have succeeded better than others.  Western Europe, parts of Latin America, and Japan all possess notable and stable democratic nations.  But most of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa have developed other forms of governance or have tried democracy and failed spectacularly at it.  Adams’ assessment that for the most part  humanity has been reluctant to assert itself remains true.  As a society, Americans sympathize deeply with those we feel are being oppressed.  Our urge to help them liberate themselves, especially when they have already begun the process, is intense.  And yet, should we?  Even the founders faced the question of whether or not they should be party to aiding those who were trying to transition to a democratic form of government.  Do we help those people who are trying to end their own misery and assert what we believe in our nation to be fundamental rights?

There’s no easy answer.  We know the Founders were profoundly against interfering in a foreign nation’s affairs.  And though they were thrilled initially at the prospect of the French Revolution, it’s violent excesses soon turned their excitement to revulsion.   Which is the root problem with interference: you never know where someone else’s revolution will go, nor how your aid will alter the outcome (or even yourself).  The French monarchy helped the American Revolution in small part, and accidentally ended up importing the very ideas that led to their own destruction.  The thing is, people have to be free to carve their own path, to throw off the yoke of their own oppressors.  Part of freedom is the freedom to choose your own path and to make the sacrifices that go along with the path you chose.  Because without freedom, democracy is meaningless.


Res Publica


Documentation without Representation:

John Adams, “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” No. 4, October 1765

Digital Copy Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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